Just before the current international break began, Juventus finally appeared to round into form after a woeful start to the 2015/16 campaign. With new arrivals needing time to settle and some key men missing, the Bianconeri struggled to become a cohesive team in many of the season’s early games.
Yet with Paulo Dybala already thriving and Juan Cuadrado turning in a string of superb performances, there is little doubt coach Massimiliano Allegri has players at his disposal who can deliver on the field.
As discussed in this previous article, the goals of Alvaro Morata are key to this upturn in results, but so too is the impact of Sami Khedira. The German star has shown himself capable of being a leader of Allegri’s new-look team, while fellow midfielder Hernanes has also begun to demonstrate why he was once so highly coveted.
The Brazilian never truly showed his best at Inter, a €20 million signing in January 2014 who never shone under Walter Mazzarri before finding himself marginalised after Roberto Mancini replaced Mazzarri as coach in November that year.
Yet it was still somewhat surprising the Nerazzurri would sell him to their bitter rivals, Juventus completing what their official website revealed to be an €11 million deal just as the summer transfer window drew to a close.
Penning a three-year contract, Hernanes will look to recapture the form that saw him come to prominence with Lazio, famously helping them defeat AS Roma in the 2013 Coppa Italia final. He was immediately inserted into the side by Allegri, starting behind the strikers against Chievo before switching to a deeper role.
That game would end in a disappointing 1-1 draw, and despite having only just made his debut, the player made an honest assessment of Juve’s performance when he spoke to Sky Italia shortly after the final whistle.
“I am not remotely satisfied,” Hernanes told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia). “As we get older and more experienced, players learn that quality isn’t enough. You have to marry it with determination, grit and effort to get the ball first.”
Showing he was unafraid to speak openly, the former Sao Paulo man helped Juve to a huge win away to Manchester City but continued to struggle domestically. Indeed, he was arguably the worst player on the pitch as Napoli thoroughly outplayed the Bianconeri in a 2-1 defeat in September, struggling with the pace of the Partenopei midfield.
Some of that was due to a change in position, with the form of Cuadrado and Claudio Marchisio’s continued absence meaning Hernanes played in the centre of Allegri’s midfield three. By the time Sevilla travelled to Turin, however, the 30-year-old looked much more comfortable and delivered a vastly improved display.
As the Bianconeri ran out 2-0 winners, he was again fielded at the heart of midfield, but he this time proved capable of dictating the tempo with some incisive passing. He would also exhibit willingness to exert himself defensively, with WhoScored.com statistics showing he made three tackles, three interceptions and one clearance.
His impact is even more impressive when noting that this term is the first time Hernanes has ever played in the Champions League. He would carry that good form into the next Serie A meeting as Juve took on Bologna.
Again playing the same role in an unchanged XI, he featured much more significantly when the Bianconeri won possession, as they dominated their newly promoted opponents. Those two matches—as well as his early showing against Chievo—highlighted just how important he could be to the team as they look to climb the table.
Hernanes already appears to have settled into both the team and his new surroundings and told the club’s official website he enjoys “a very good relationship with Allegri.” At the same time, he spoke highly of his team-mates, but the player again discussed the difficult nature of playing in Serie A.
“Winning breeds confidence, but we also need to learn how to deal with both positive moments and those less so,” he said. “The Italian league is one of the toughest in the world and always has been.”
With the Old Lady currently in the bottom half of the table, that is becoming increasingly clear. However, that should change as her injury problems slowly start to ease. Khedira has already returned, and Allegri told a recent press conference that “Claudio Marchisio will return after the break for international duty,” per Football Italia.
With Paul Pogba also at his disposal, the coach will have an interesting blend of midfield players to choose from, but Hernanes might well be the key to it all. Indeed, shortly after he joined the club, Allegri explained what the Recife native would bring, telling TuttoSport (h/t Football Italia):
I'm expecting goals from Hernanes. We're talking about an important player who was part of the Brazil national team and who'll certainly do well with us. I'm happy about his arrival because he has experience, quality, technique and goals in his legs.
He also takes free-kicks. He's an excellent signing.
Yet to register a goal or an assist for Juve, he has certainly tried to deliver on those demands, with statistics from Squawka highlighting an impressive 83 per cent of his shots have been on target thus far in 2015/16.
His delivery from set pieces has been as accurate as his new coach promised too, and it is difficult to imagine he will not net his first Juve goal very soon. Despite the team’s struggles, Hernanes’ passing has also caught the eye, as figures taken from WhoScored.com show he has connected with 89.2 per cent of his pass attempts.
With the same source indicating he connected with 82.5 per cent with Inter last term, the feeling he has improved rapidly since joining Juventus is well supported. As both he and his team-mates grow more accustomed to playing together and the the side becomes more settled, that can only continue.
Juventus face Inter on Oct. 18, presenting them with a chance to close the gap to one of the division's leading teams, and Allegri discussed the need for continuing their winning run when he recently spoke to Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia):
To win the Scudetto we need consistent results, which is something we’ve struggled with so far this season in Serie A. Therefore we need to be consistent, because a victory away to Inter followed by two defeats renders the win pointless.
Do we still believe in the Scudetto? That’s only natural, as we are only in October.
Their Brazilian star—who offers a variety of skills his team-mates lack—can be key to that. Hernanes must now put his own inconsistent form behind him and play the way he did against Bologna and Sevilla rather than repeating his dire display against Napoli.
Of course, there would also be no better time to break his duck. A goal against Inter would quickly improve his standing with fans of Juventus while also showing why Hernanes could well be the man to lift them to Serie A glory once again.